Food Fight

Food Fight: Battle DIY Salad

At the beginning of the month, Ruthie Johnson posted a very helpful guide to the best salads in Houston. The Big Salad at Paulie's, the even bigger salads at Barnaby's, the Tex-Mex-inspired salads at Mission Burrito and the spicy Thai salads at Asia Market: all delicious, but sometimes you just want to throw your own salad together.

For that, you can go one of two ways: A truly DIY salad place like Sweet Tomatoes or Souper Salad, where you go through a line and compile a garbage plate of vegetables, or a semi-DIY place like Salata or Bowl, where they compile your carefully selected garbage plate for you. We chose one of each method for this week's Food Fight and got down to business.

Bowl, 607 Richmond

We've always liked Bowl. Its location on Richmond just off Spur 527 lends a quiet, hidden quality to both the restaurant and its sibling, the bar called Absinthe (you know, the one you can never find). And the interior is at once peaceful and invigorating -- an excellent place to enjoy a leisurely lunch and feel better about yourself afterward for eating something healthy. Of course, you can always ruin it with a homemade chocolate chip cookie if that's your thing, like it is ours.

If you're ordering a salad at Bowl, simply grab one of the paper menus and start working out your trainwreck of a salad on the little worksheet inside. $7 gets you ten toppings with one cheese and one dressing; $10 gets you 15 toppings. For another $3, you can get your choice of meat on top. When you're done, hand it to the cheerful salad fellow behind the counter and in a few short minutes, instant salad. It's like a Star Trek replicator, only no Chech'tluth.

We went with the spinach salad and a truckload of various ingredients that probably sound very gross to most people when mixed together. But this is why we make our own salad. The spinach, beets, walnuts, peppers, golden raisins, chickpeas, bacon, etc. were fresh, tasty and filling. We sat outside on the bright, verdant patio and watched the cars stream by on Richmond as we finished up Middlesex. It was the perfect way to spend a lunch hour.

Souper Salad, 574 West Gray (and other locations)

Fond childhood memories of Souper Salad led us here instead of Sweet Tomatoes (a known and beloved variable). We hadn't been inside a Souper Salad in a good ten years, but can reminisce fondly about rare dinners out here with our working mother when we were in elementary school or group meals after swim team practice in high school. It turns out there's a reason we stopped going to Souper Salad.

With dim lighting, tiny plates and sad little vats of salad fixings, the motto at Souper Salad could easily be: "We have Corn Nuts on the salad bar, so let's not try and pretend that any of this is actually healthy." In addition to the Corn Nuts, we counted oddities like a nacho "bar" next to the baked potatoes and steam trays filled with bright orange macaroni and cheese. The vestiges of Souper Salad that we remember are still there -- the gingerbread muffins, the soup bar, the cottage cheese and peaches -- but have been greatly diminished over time, both by the low-end ingredients and their proximity to slices of what resembled soggy cheese pizza.

Although we loaded our plate with spinach, beets, chickpeas, zucchini and a wealth of other vegetables, we couldn't taste a single one of them. They all tasted of air, and -- in the case of the chickpeas -- also of slime. We sampled the seafood gumbo from the soup bar and found it inedible and smelling of tobacco, while the "macaroni and cheese" was little more than overly salty nacho cheese ladled atop overcooked pasta. Glad that we paid our $9.40 tab up front, we got the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

The Winner

Bowl. While you obviously get more bang for your buck at Souper Salad, the question is: Do you really want more? And the answer: No. Please no.

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Katharine Shilcutt